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Looking to Expand

Business owner hopes to use contest money to expand his business to include a learning center.

Video production is Jose Vanegas’ passion and according to him, there’s an untapped market brimming full of young people who share his fever for the art.

Vanegas, 41, a Hispanic small-business entrepreneur and South Riding resident, has a plan he hopes will enable him to expand his part-time video production company to Latino youth in Northern Virginia: he’s entered a contest.

In fact, he’s already impressed the judges with his vision and made it into the semi-finalist round.

The grand prize — $25,000 cash, $25,000 in legal, financial and marketing services and a 2006 Mercury Mountaineer — is just what he needs, he said, to make his dream come true.

The contest, called El Visionario [The Visionary] and hosted by AOL Latino and Ford Motor Co., is intended “to empower, educate, and help Hispanic-owned, small-business owners grow,” by engaging them in a newly relaunched Web site called Mi Negocio, said Sandra Correa, AOL Latino spokesperson.

Mi negocio translated means “my business.”

The site features several resources for small-business owners like financial and business articles provided by Fortune, Business 2.0 and Fortune Small Business magazines; a business tools section with information on entrepreneurial development, sales and marketing, money and finance; and an interactive, message board community. All the content on the site is exclusively in Spanish.

To enter the contest, bilingual, small-business owners answered a series of questions about their businesses, their marketing and production strategies and interaction with the community and how they would expand using the $25,000 cash, Correa said.

A panel of judges, including Nely Galán, creator of Fox-TV's "The Swan," chose 50 applicants to participate based on their overall strategy and creativity. The public gets to choose the grand prize winner.

Web surfers and AOL Latino members vote online for their top five favorite small-business owner, whose profiles will be up on the site, from Sept. 23 through Oct. 7 and then again for the grand prize winner from Oct. 18 through Nov. 11. The winner will be announced the week of Nov. 15.

WHAT VANEGAS hopes to do is create an after-school place similar to that of a dance or martial arts studio for Latino youth, where they can come to learn basic skills in video production, broadcast journalism and graphic design.

Currently, Vanegas specializes in freelance video production doing things like commercials for small-business owners, weddings, quinceañeras - a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday that signifies the transition to womanhood - and video demonstrations for bands.

The money from the contest, he said, would help fund the necessities for such a venture, like additional video production equipment, classroom space or a possible mobile classroom and instructors.

“I really see a need for something like this out there,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of young people and one of the things they tell me is they want to express themselves but they don’t have that outlet. So there seems to be a void.”

He said it’s increasingly important to fill it because Hispanic communities nationwide are feeling the severe consequences of their youth not having a means for personal _expression.

“There are a lot of immigrant families coming in who have to work hard and don’t pay too much attention to what kids are doing in school,” he said. “Because there are not that many outlets for them to do something meaningful and see that they are part of the whole in the community, you see the gangs, kids doing drugs and alcohol and getting in trouble with the law.”

Vanegas said that even though there are recreation centers available for Latino teens, they tend to shy away from going because there aren’t many activities that cater to them and their culture, especially in this area.

GUILLERMO MENESES, communications director of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the largest advocate for Hispanic businesses in the country, said he applauds AOL Latino “for taking the initiative in identifying and recognizing the passion and entrepreneurial spirit of the Hispanic community.” Meneses, an Ashburn resident and owner of a budding media communications firm, said he isn’t surprised by the outreach.

“What we’re seeing here is that Hispanic businesses are growing by leaps and bounds in every section of the country,” he said. “We’re not only growing in population, but we’re growing in the political landscape, the socioeconomic landscape, in finance and business. We are contributing to this economy day in and day out.”

Census figures confirm the growth. Nationwide, there are 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses, up 31 percent from 1997. There are approximately 19,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in Virginia, up from 13,000 — a 39 percent rise in growth — since 1997.

About 40 percent of Hispanic-owned firms were in administrative support and waste management, health care and other services industries; with another 13 percent in construction, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Meneses attributes the growth to the “passion, energy, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit” of Hispanic

entrepreneurs and business owners.

The numbers, he said, reinforce that Hispanics really are making a difference. But the growth is not just in numbers only, he added.

“What we’re really seeing now is the sophistication of Hispanic businesses,” he said. “Once you saw that Hispanic businesses began with small restaurants, cleaning and maintenance, and service-related areas. Now we’re growing in every facet of American business from government to IT solutions, to graphic designing, to media television, to the defense industry.”

IN HIS SPARE TIME, Vanegas, who is originally from Columbia, South America, spends his time creating documentaries. Two of his productions, "Democracy Denied: The Shadow Inauguration," a focus on the shadow inauguration given for President George W. Bush at the time of his actual inauguration in 2001, and "Seven Days Across America," a mini-documentary about a week-long bike ride across Montana as a crew member of one bicyclists team, won film awards.

He said he loves what he does because it gives him a way to express himself.

“Through video, I can communicate a message to other people, things that other people might not see, that I can see, and bring a different point of view,” he said.

Vanegas said he likes to keep an open mind and film a wide variety of subjects, but social issues, particularly race, class and religion, have a special place in his heart.

“I think they’re very important issues that people like to sweep under the rug because it’s not pretty what’s going in society,” he said.